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Psychopath vs Sociopath: 16 Key Differences

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a long-term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. Individuals with a personality disorder have a low moral compass or conscience, as well as a history that is likely to include maladaptive behaviors such as crime, legal problems, or impulsive and aggressive behavior. Not surprisingly, antisocial personality disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition.

Antisocial personality disorders can consist of several variations; however, the most prominent delineations are sociopaths and psychopaths.

Unfortunately, many people use the terms psychopath and sociopath almost synonymously. The primary reason the terms are often used interchangeably involves the limited differences that define the terms.

Notably, there are many similarities between the two disorders, including disregard for the law; lack of regard for the needs or the feelings of others; absence of empathy; the tendency to blame others and make excuses for their own behavior; lack of emotional attachment; engaging in deceptive behavior; lacking feelings of remorse or guilt; and a greater likelihood than individuals without the disorders to participate in illegal activities.

Although mental health professionals often group sociopaths and psychopaths together, criminologists differentiate between them based on their outward behavior.

Differences Between Psychopaths and Sociopaths Include:

Psychopaths do not have a conscience
Sociopaths have a weak conscience
Psychopaths are more manipulative and calculating than sociopaths
Sociopaths are much more likely to blend in with society than psychopaths
Psychopaths are typically willing to pretend they care about or are interested in the feelings of others
Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves
Psychopaths are often very intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions
Sociopaths are typically impulsive. They act without thinking about the consequences of their actions
Psychopaths are usually callous, yet charming
Sociopaths often display irritability
Psychopaths can be almost obsessively organized
Sociopaths are usually less organized in their demeanor. They might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger
Psychopaths can typically maintain normal social relationships
Sociopaths have a difficult time establishing and maintaining relationships
Psychopaths will often be very successful in their careers
Sociopaths have a difficult time achieving career goals and maintaining employment

Additionally, it appears that some of the antisocial behaviors of sociopaths can dissipate over time, while the same cannot be said of the behavior of psychopaths. According to the DSM-5, the symptoms of antisocial personality tend to remit over the course of life, especially during and beyond the fourth decade of life. However, the DSM-5 notes this remission typically only involves a decrease in antisocial behaviors, not a full reduction of all symptoms.

Despite the similarities in the characteristics of psychopathy and sociopathy, it is highly unlikely that a single person could possess the attributes of both disorders. It is possible, however, that a person’s attributes might be borderline between a psychopath and a sociopath making it difficult to distinguish between the disorders.

Psychopath vs Sociopath: 16 Key Differences

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2018). Psychopath vs Sociopath: 16 Key Differences. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Sep 2018
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